A. Introduction to the Teaching Churches Network
1. “Teaching Churches”
In preparing practitioners in the field of medicine, it was discovered that studying medical texts alone was not sufficient to train prospective physicians. It was determined that the most effective means of training and equipping doctors was to work together with practitioners in a hospital setting. Students would see real patients under the supervision of experienced physicians, learning the “practice” of medicine. These hospitals have come to be known as “Teaching Hospitals.”
In the same way, academic studies alone are not sufficient to prepare individuals for a lifetime of ministry. It is crucial that those preparing for ministry have the opportunity to
put what they are learning in the classroom “to practice” in the context of a living congregation under the watchful care of an experienced ministry mentor.
This is the fundamental rationale for Westminster’s Mentored Ministry program. The Teaching Churches Network is a group of churches that share the commitment and the blessing of preparing the next generation of Kingdom leadership and are willing to commit their resources to accomplish the task.
The goal is to offer an increasing number of ways for participating teaching churches and mentors to benefit from the experiences of one another. Often churches within the same presbyteries or communities have not had a forum in which to share internship ideas or mentoring experiences. Mentors in Teaching Churches will be encouraged to attend the regular Meetings for Mentors sponsored by the Mentored Ministry Department at Westminster. The list of churches in the Teaching Churches Network will be made available to incoming students.
B. Characteristics of a Teaching Church
1. A Committed Mentor
Before American Protestantism borrowed the “academy” approach to ministerial education from the European university model in the eighteenth century, prospective ministers were nurtured by experienced pastors, sometimes living in the homes of their ministry mentors. While this level of commitment from a mentor might be unrealistic today, it is not unrealistic to expect a sincere investment of time and wisdom into the lives of the next generation of Kingdom servants. However, not every minister has the “passion,” the patience, or the time for such an endeavor. On the other hand, there are many who are willing to share their lives and ministries for this purpose. Paul reminded Timothy that “the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). As Paul wrote these words, he was modeling the very principle he was urging upon Timothy. He shared his life and ministry with Timothy and others, preparing them for fruitful ministries of their own. The committed ministry mentor embraces the opportunity to invest in “faithful men” for the sake of the church-at-large.
The willingness of a Pastor or Elder to spend time mentoring a prospective pastor is the single most important element of the Teaching Church. Even as a medical student does “rounds” with an experienced physician, ministry students need the time and commitment of a mentor who will help him by taking him through the “rounds”of ministry. It is not enough merely to offer ministry experiences, but a mentor provides feedback to the student through encouragement and constructive criticism. This takes time. Ideally, the mentor would meet regularly (the ideal is weekly) to review the past week’s activities.
A mentor in a Teaching Church will familiarize himself with the Mentored Ministry Manual and the Guide for Mentors. Please don’t hesitate to contact the Mentored Ministry Department for copies of these guides or for more information. More information for the benefit of mentors is found in the Guide for Mentors produced by the Mentored Ministry Department.
2. A Committed Congregation
The desire to mentor prospective ministers must not belong merely to the pastor or and elder, but must be shared by the entire congregation. It might be said, “it takes a flock to shape a shepherd.” The confirmation of an individual’s gifts and calling by the church is crucial to persons seeking God’s direction for future service. This applies not only to the formal call issued by a church (sometimes called the providential call), but to the process of ministerial formation that leads to such a call. Congregations need to be brought to appreciate their importance in this process. The Teaching Church understands this and is committed to being an integral part of the process of ministerial development. This is important inasmuch as the sheep will need to be supportive in the understanding that students are “learning” and, as such, probably will not be as “competent” or as “polished” as they eventually will become. They will need to be willing for a student to be involved in every appropriate aspect of pastoral ministry from preaching to visitation to attendance at various meetings of the church. This “up front” understanding and commitment is crucial to an effective mentoring ministry.
3. Provide Mentored Ministry Experience in partnership with Westminster
A Teaching Church is committed to work with the student to complete the requirements of the Mentored Ministry program at Westminster as outlined in the Mentors Guide and the Mentored Ministry Manual. A distinctive of a Teaching Church is its willingness to offer the student experience in as many of the Recommended Learning Activities portion of the Mentored Ministry Student Manual as possible.
4. Provide an Internship that is approved by your judicatory
Another distinctive of a Teaching Church is that it will work with a student in designing an internship that will not only meet the requirements of Westminster’s Mentored Ministry program but also the internship requirements of your church judicatory (presbytery, synod, etc.). This will require the church to allow the student to engage in the full array of ministerial experiences in order that he will be judged “ready” by your judicatory. It is not expected that you will be able to provide this opportunity for every student that attends your church but your goal should be to see several students attain the objective over the years.
In order to be part of the Teaching Churches Network, you need not have an internship in place immediately, but be committed to provide such an internship when the opportunity arises.
5. Unless providentially hindered, will ordinarily serve at least one student in the process of preparation for ministry.
You might not have a student attending your church now, but becoming part of the Teaching Churches Network will enable us to communicate your willingness to have a student serve in your congregation.
C. How to Join the Teaching Churches Network
1. Become familiar with the Guide for Mentors and the Guide for Students.
2. Get the approval of the appropriate decision-making body (session,
3. Fill out the Application for the Teaching Churches Network online OR return the completed printable form
Office of Mentored Ministry
Westminster Theological Seminary
Philadelphia, PA 19118